May 13

Advice from an old dog learning new tricks

As a baby boomer, I’d like to share a few insights on the topic of coping with quarantine and working from home.

I feel for all our students who have been displaced, have had their lives upended, been required to alter their educational and personal lives in so many ways — and in many cases lost their financial safety lines due to job layoffs, canceled job promises or internship delays. The reality is all of this sucks.

A major saving grace for most of you is your youth. You’re lucky to be young. You likely have a lifetime ahead of you. This situation will be burned into your memory and only make you stronger as you grow older. As an aging baby-boomer, we kid ourselves with the adage: “If I knew then what I know now, how better my life would be.” I’ve lived through dramatic times, economic hardships, personal losses, and yet life went on. In the end, the highs well outnumbered the lows. You, too, will come out the other end of this stronger, more aware, and better prepared for life.

Our reality as the boomer generation is that we have to accept these dramatic lifestyle changes, yet our timeframe for “normalcy” is much shorter. If my glass is half empty, yours should be more than half-full!

Erba College
Mr. Joseph Erba (seen here standing to the far right during his college years) serves as the Assistant Dean of External Affairs.

Not long ago I announced to my team that I had come to the end of my career road and would be retiring from my position soon. I knew this day was coming and actually started planning for it quite a while back. As each month passed and the date of leaving got closer, I was trying to mentally prepare myself for all the changes I would need to endure; loss of social engagement to folks I had spent most of my waking hours with, loss of status, loss of income. Would I be relevant? If so, to whom? After the newness of waking up on Mondays and not having to jump out of bed, into the car, and into work wore off, what would I do to occupy my time and be productive? What would productivity look like? 

I can only build so many birdhouses in quarantine to keep myself from going (or getting) mad.

But this pandemic, this terrible plague that has taken over our lives, disrupted the routines of hundreds of millions of folks, killed innumerable individuals and causing economic hardships not seen in almost 100 years has actually offered me a glimpse into my future. For the past six weeks as I have learned to work-in-place and have had to embrace change like never before. I lectured to students and to my team that to be successful, you need to learn how to embrace change in your lives. Take advantage of it, see the opportunities, and move towards them, not away from them.

As it stands, I realized I needed to walk the talk. I needed to learn to appreciate that individuals can be as productive (if not more) working at home instead of behind a desk on campus. I had to learn how to better use the vast amounts of technology and tools available to us, or fail miserably in communicating to my multi-generational team (Hangouts, Zoom, various messenger apps and chats, blah, blah, blah). I had to truly understand and accept the argument of “work/life balance” that is so foreign to workers of my generation. Additionally, I had to learn that my wife of more than 40 years has her own lifestyle and routines at home, and I was invading her daytime world pretty significantly. Either I had to embrace and support them, or get out of the way, fast!

So, my “practice” retirement has been an eye-opening, sometimes aggravating, sometimes freeing, always complicated exercise. If there’s a slim silver lining in all this pain and suffering abound, it’s that I’ve learned more about who I need to be, not who I am. As my time at the Bryan School of Business and Economics winds down, I’d like to reiterate that simple but powerful piece of advice — embrace change, embrace change, embrace change. There is no alternative to a happy, healthy, and engaging life.

Good luck to all!

Mr. Joseph Erba serves as the Assistant Dean of External Affairs. His responsibilities include marketing and communications for the School, external business relationships, alumni engagement, and graduate program recruitment.